News       Events               CHITIN


New US-Ireland Awards

HSC R&D Division is funding 3 new Awards under the US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership Programme. 

The US-Ireland R&D Partnership  is a unique arrangement, which involves funding agencies in the USA, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland which combine resources to enable the best researchers from Ireland and the USA to work together on research to address critical issues and generate valuable discoveries that will impact on patient care.

The Awards are in the following areas:

Developing a novel treatment for diabetes-related blindness

Investigating the effectiveness of gastric bypass surgery

Identifying the genetic factors in diabetic kidney disease

Dr Janice Bailie, Assistant Director of the Public Health Agency’s HSC R&D Division, which is funding the Northern Ireland parts of these projects with support from the Medical Research Council, said: “We are delighted to be funding these projects which will tackle important problems affecting the HSC. We expect that the outcomes from these international research partnerships will lead to significant advances in the treatment of patients with diabetes-related blindness, diabetic kidney disease and obese patients in the UK, Ireland and beyond.”


Award 1

World-leading researchers from Queen’s University Belfast are among a team of scientists from the USA and Ireland who are collaborating to develop a novel treatment for diabetes-related blindness.

The new €2.25m US-Ireland R&D partnership is bringing together a unique team of scientists and clinicians to develop a gene therapy approach with the aim of potentially reversing diabetes-linked blood vessel damage to the retina – the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Ultimately, the team hopes to prevent disease progression and restore visual function.

Diabetes-related blindness, also known as diabetic retinopathy, is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the blood vessels in the retina. This global challenge affecting more than 90 million people is one of the leading causes of ‘new’ blindness in working-age adults in the UK.

Existing therapies, such as laser treatment and monthly injections of drugs into the eye, are not effective for all patients and carry significant side effects and cost implications for the NHS.

The research team is planning to overcome these limitations by developing a gene therapy approach based on the use of adeno-associated viruses (AAV) which insert genetic material at a specific site. This will enable long‑term delivery of a protein, called COMP-Ang1, to the retina. The researchers have previously discovered that this protein can protect the retina from damage during diabetes, but precisely how it does this remains unclear.  

The team will investigate how COMP-Ang1 prevents inflammation, leakage from blood vessels and improves the function of the retina. They will also investigate the ability of COMP-Ang1 to enhance a stem cell therapy which the team at Queen’s has been developing over several years. Ultimately, it is hoped that COMP-Ang1 will facilitate the reversal and repair of diabetic damage to the retina.

Dr Tim Curtis, from the Centre for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University, said: “During diabetes, blood flow to the retina is impaired and this is believed to trigger the development of diabetic retinopathy. Our aim is to examine whether COMP-Ang1 treatment is capable of preventing or reversing diabetic retinopathy by improving blood flow and vascular repair in the retina. Queen’s researchers are established leaders in diabetic retinopathy and we are delighted to be part of a leading international consortium tackling one of the major health challenges facing us today.”

At the University of Utah, researchers will ascertain how the drug prevents inflammation in diabetic patients, using the smallest possible drug dose to achieve optimal long-term effect while minimising side-effects of toxicity. The researchers at Dublin City University will advance our knowledge of therapeutic viruses to ensure their improved efficiency for delivery into the eye.

Click here to see QUB press release>


Award 2

A US-Ireland partnership involving researchers at Ulster University has been awarded £2.0 million to investigate the effectiveness of gastric bypass surgery

It will bring together world-leading nutrition and neuroscientist researchers from Ulster University, Florida State University and University College Dublin.

The research will specifically aim to identify if long-term weight loss from gastric bypass or bariatric surgery is due solely to changes in appetite and food choices or if it is also associated with changes in metabolic rate following surgery.

Bariatric surgery has been found to consistently allow patients to lose a quarter of their weight and maintain the weight loss for several decades. The safety of bariatric surgery is similar to that of hip replacements or gall bladder surgery, but the potential health gains are vast with many patients overcoming type 2 diabetes, mobility problems and sleep apnoea.

Some studies have also indicated the weight loss surgery can reduce heart attacks by a quarter and cancer by a third. However the surgery is only currently available on the NHS in England, Wales and Scotland, so the highly innovative project will monitor local bariatric surgery patients treated by an independent healthcare company, Phoenix Irish Health.

Professor Barbara Livingstone, Ulster University, one of the scientists leading the research, said: “Our research will not just examine the effectiveness of gastric bypass, or bariatric surgery, it will also examine behavioural changes in patients which may contribute to the long term success of the procedure.

“Obesity levels are increasing globally and the associated medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancers are placing strain on already-challenged healthcare resources. It is vital that we fully investigate not just the effectiveness of treatments but also any associated factors such as patient’s attitudes and behaviours towards food, which may assist in helping everyone to make healthier food and lifestyle choices.

“Ulster University is uniquely positioned to play a critical role in the research as it is one of the only universities in Europe to have a fully-equipped residential research facility which allows full observation of patients immediately before and after surgery.

“This facility will enable researchers to obtain a fundamental understanding of behaviours and attitudes to food so we can understand how a change in these behaviours after surgery may assist in the overall success of the surgical procedure.”

click here to see UU press release>


Award 3

Research aiming to explain why some people with diabetes are at higher risk than others of developing kidney failure.

Professor Peter Maxwell from the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University, said: “The research team will study DNA from 20,000 people from all around the world with three main aims. Firstly, we will explore important variations in DNA to discover why some people with diabetes are at higher risk of kidney failure compared with others who seem to be protected from developing this complication.

“Secondly, we hope to better understand how having a poor control of diabetes – high blood sugars over a long period of time – can lead to the re-programming of DNA and an increased risk of kidney failure. Thirdly, we aim to develop new tests that could be used to screen people with diabetes to assess their risk of developing kidney complications and help select the best preventative treatment."

To view the full press release from Queen's University click here>